Greenmarket farmers' markets in New York City are my favorite new place to hunt for offal. You may not think of your farmers' market as a source for nose-to-tail cuts, yet these days the meat vendors are showing up in full force. Best of all, you never know what you might find in one of their coolers.
Over the past year, I've come across cuts of offal at farmers' markets that I haven't even found at sustainable or ethnic butcher shops. Why I was surprised to see cartons of livers and hearts in the coolers at the farmers' markets, I don't know. By the time animals arrive at a butcher shop, they'll have passed through plants where some percentage of the offal is discarded in an effort to expedite the process and keep the facilities clean. The farmers who slaughter as well as butcher, on the other hand, often take the time to save the offal from their animals. Though not all farmers possess the facilities and legal certification, some do have their own abattoirs on site. Even those who do not own their own abattoirs will send their animals to be slaughtered at places where the offal can be reserved.
On a Saturday morning at the Borough Hall Greenmarket in Brooklyn, I chatted with a turkey farmer who carried bags of turkey necks. In the adjacent stand, a pastured poultry farmer sold some of the most pristine livers I'd ever seen: plump and dry, with a matte gloss on the surface. Livers that you find in your grocery store often have a slickness to their surface and a slightly rank odor. These livers, on the other hand, smelled distinctly sweet.
Pairing Duck Liver with Produce
If you've only experienced the creaminess of chicken liver, try to imagine the indulgence of duck liver. Its texture, though a far cry from foie gras, approaches the richness of something that tastes too good to be a humble cut of offal sold for a pittance. But cheap and delicious it is, and if you're strolling by the farmers' market, then you may as well pick up seasonal produce to pair with your livers. Rhubarb, with its tart flavor, cuts through the fattiness of duck liver. Cherries, which vary from tart to sweet, add more juice and sweetness to the sauce.
All livers pair well with acidic sauces, many of which are made with reductions of vinegar. Using fruit instead of vinegar adds more body and texture to the dish. Rhubarb is showing up more and more on restaurant menus as a complement to savory dishes, but given the ease of its preparation, it's also an ideal vegetable with which to experiment at home.
For an impromptu sauce to go along with my sautéed duck livers, I cut up the rhubarb and cherries and placed them into a small saucepan along with a few spoonfuls of sugar. In twenty minutes the rhubarb and cherries had broken down into a beautiful sanguine mass, akin to compote, with a flavor that puckered, then mellowed in my mouth. If you happen to have a fig or well-aged balsamic at home, you can finish the sauce with a splash of the vinegar.
Cook in Plenty of Fat
Finally, though I probably say this at least once a month, sautéing your livers on a very hot cast iron skillet is an ideal way to achieve a crispy surface while retaining a creamy interior that's barely cooked through. For duck liver, which is more delicate than calf's, I like to roughly chop the livers into 1-inch segments so that the surface of the livers do not have a chance to toughen. The livers should be cooked in plenty of butter for ultimate richness and flavor, though if you happen to have duck fat on hand, then cooking the livers in the fat will intensify the ducky flavor of the organs. Treading in a sea of red, the duck livers exude their own, fatty juices onto the plate. Liver and compote mingle; their union is thrilling and luscious.
Sautéed Duck Livers with Rhubarb and Cherry Sauce
- 4 to 6 duck livers
- A few tablespoons cornstarch or flour for coating the livers
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
- Pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons of butter or duck fat
- For the sauce
- 1/2 pound dark red cherries, either Bing or another variety
- 1/2 pound rhubarb, about 4 to 5 stalks
- 1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon fig balsamic vinegar, optional
To make the sauce: Rinse the cherries and rhubarb in cold water. Chop the stalks of rhubarb into 1/4-inch slices. Remove the pits from the cherries and chop into halves. Place the rhubarb and the cherries in a small saucepan, along with the sugar. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. The sauce should be like compote: fleshy and soft, with a few pieces of cherry still intact. Depending on the tartness of your cherries, you may need to add a bit more sugar. If desired, add a splash of vinegar at the end. The sauce may be made in advance and set aside.
Dry your livers on a towel; then cut them up into 1-inch segments and set aside.